Rochester City Council shoots down mayor’s mask mandate

On Tuesday, Rochester Mayor Kim Norton issued an emergency declaration requiring protective masks to be worn indoors throughout the city in all areas where “medically vulnerable individuals or children under the age of 12 are expected to be present.”

Her five-page emergency edict cited the recent increase in cases to justify the abrupt crackdown.

The recent spread of the Delta Variant among both the vaccinated and unvaccinated has resulted in an abrupt and concerning change in the fight against the pandemic; and the health concerns associated with the variant among those within the City are significant and raise some of the same uncertainties that existed at the start of the pandemic.

The Post Bulletin noted that Norton did not let the fact that Rochester has the highest vaccination rate in the state for those over 16 years of age get in her way. Never mind that the vague wording of the emergency order raised questions over how it could possibly be effectively implemented, much less enforced.

Norton said she’s hoping people will acknowledge that the youngest residents remain at risk.

“I would ask the community to err on the side of safety,” she said. “A child could be in the store or might be in right after you pass through an aisle. It doesn’t hurt to wear a mask, even if a child isn’t present.”

But there’s a catch. While a mayor of Rochester can unilaterally issue a declaration of emergency, the order comes with a three-day expiration date, unless the city council votes to approve and extend it. At an emergency city council meeting on Thursday, Norton’s mask mandate came to an equally abrupt end, a day early.

The Rochester City Council voted 5-2 to rescind an emergency order signed Tuesday morning by Mayor Kim Norton.

“This declaration, I think, creates legal and governance issues for our city that I don’t want to put us in,” council member Patrick Keane said of the mayor’s order.

Calling it “poor public policy,” he said the emergency declaration lacks communication and implementation plans, as well as community involvement and an enforcement policy.

The city council passed a resolution “strongly encouraging” residents to wear a protective mask indoors. But ultimately, they left it up to businesses and individuals to decide for themselves. What a concept.

Council member Mark Bransford said the lack of a high death rate or the dire predictions seen when the council adopted a mask mandate last year means the current situation doesn’t rise to the level of “imminent disaster” required in the city’s charter.

“This doesn’t even come close to that at all,” he said.

The city council’s rejection of Norton’s emergency order shows some local elected officials share the public’s increasing skepticism over the government’s often too heavy-handed response to a virus that we need to learn to live with for the foreseeable future.